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C40 Voices: North America Regional Director Johanna Partin

I’m thrilled to take on the role of C40 North America Regional Director. Having worked for two mayors in San Francisco, one of C40’s Innovator Cities, and on distributed clean energy systems internationally for a number of years before that, I’m a firm believer in driving global sustainability through local action.

It’s often said that federal governments talk and cities act. Nowhere is this more evident than in our North American cities. While federal governments have failed to produce effective climate policies, North American cities have shown that smart, aggressive climate action is doable. Since 2005, when more than 1,000 mayors signed on to the Mayors Climate Protection Initiative, committing their cities to meet the targets set forth in the Kyoto Protocol (reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels), several North American cities have surpassed the Kyoto goal. For example, the cities of San Francisco and Toronto have each reduced their community-wide GHGs to 15 percent below 1990 levels, and one of our newest members, Washington, D.C., recently announced that it has achieved a 12 percent reduction since 2005.

And we’re growing economies in the process. Vancouver has grown its population by 27 percent and increased jobs by 18 percent while simultaneously achieving the smallest per capita carbon footprint of any city in North America. The City of Austin, which recently received the only Green Power Leadership Award ever given to a city by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has seen some of the strongest job growth in the U.S. over the past five years while aggressively implementing its sustainability agenda.

Other North American cities are championing some of the world’s most groundbreaking sustainability policies and programs:

  • New York City’s Greener Greater Buildings Plan targets energy efficiency in these large existing buildings in the 15,000 buildings that account for 45 percent of total GHG emissions in the city.
  • Portland’s pioneering “ecodistrict” movement is testing new strategies for integrating building and infrastructure projects with community and individual action.
  • The City of Chicago has created the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, a new public-private partnership to leverage up to $1.7 billion to help finance needed improvements in the city’s streets, public transit, public buildings, and utilities.
  • Los Angeles is soon to complete one of the most ambitious street light energy efficiency projects in the world, retrofitting more than 140,000 street lights with LEDs, increasing efficiency by 63 percent, and saving the city more than $5 million annually.
  • Houston’s award-winning Green Office Challenge has fostered voluntary energy efficiency upgrades of between 10-50 percent in more than 400 commercial buildings.
  • The City of Philadelphia is more than 80 percent of the way toward achieving its ambitious goal of providing easy access to open green space for all of its residents.
  • New Orleans is taking aggressive steps to reduce future flooding and other climate change risks by elevating homes, rebuilding levees, and restoring wetlands.
  • Seattle has led the way in green energy and green buildings, as the first city in the U.S. to mandate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for municipal building projects. The city’s electric utility, Seattle City Light, was the nation’s first large electric utility to become carbon neutral.

Our North American cities have demonstrated incredible climate leadership, and there’s much to be proud of. But we still have a long way to go. We have some pretty big challenges to confront, including building cities’ resilience to the more frequent impacts of climate change, tackling the next round of harder-to-achieve GHG reductions, and doing a better job of “building the business case” for sustainability investments which grow economies and create jobs. The good news is that there are many lessons to learn from, and best practices to share with, other cities around the world as we all confront similar challenges.

I look forward to working with our North American cities to take on these challenges, and to continue to demonstrate that climate change can be addressed one city at a time.

Johanna Gregory Partin is North America Regional Director for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. Prior to coming to C40, Johanna served as Senior Policy Advisor on Environment to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, where she advised Mayor Lee on citywide sustainable energy, climate, transportation, green building and other programs promoting sustainability for San Francisco. Ms. Partin served in the same position under Mayor Gavin Newsom from 2009-2010. Ms. Partin also served on the Board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and is a Faculty Member for the Climate Leadership Academy. Previously, Ms. Partin worked as Renewable Energy Program Manager at the San Francisco Department of Environment, and as Program Manager for international clean energy programs at Winrock International. Ms. Partin has over 20 years’ experience in the fields of climate change, renewable energy, microfinance, sustainable development and gender equity, and has worked both locally and in more than 15 countries around the world. Johanna has a Master’s degree in Energy & Environmental Policy from the University of Delaware and a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Anthropology from UC Santa Barbara.


  1. John Gregory
    Arcadia, CA
    May 22, 2013, 2:07 pm

    Excellent recap of best-in-class projects that USA cities are doing to combat climate change.